How Denver's mushroom vote inspired Oakland to free all natural psychedelics

How Denver's mushroom vote inspired Oakland to free all natural psychedelics

Oakland cops to ignore shrooms, DMT, ayahuasca, ibogaine, more

VicesJune 07, 2019 By Reilly Capps

The Mile High City's enthusiasm for drugs is catching.

"Denver catalyzed this," said Larry Norris.

Norris co-founded ERIE, an education nonprofit in the Bay Area that teaches about psychedelics — or entheogens, and they call them. This year, Norris and friends watched as Denver held a historic vote to free magic mushrooms.

"We were like, 'Hey, we're the Bay Area, why aren't we doing this?'" Norris said.

The Bay Area, of course, is way druggier than Denver.

So ... they did it. And then some.

Norris co-founded a group called Decriminalize Nature Oakland. And after just six months of work and only $15,000, Norris said, they scored one of the biggest stoner wins in history. They convinced the Oakland government to stop busting people for plant-based psychedelics.

Like Denver, that includes magic mushrooms. But it doesn't stop there.

Basically anything that grows out of the ground that you can smoke, eat and brew — cactuses, funguses, vines and leaves — such as DMT, peyote, ibogaine and ayahuasca — hundreds of drugs that can blast you into the stratosphere. Growing and using them is now the "lowest law enforcement priority," and cops can't spend resources to narc you.

(Read the full resolution here. It's really interesting.)  

What's more, Decriminalize Nature succeeded in a fairly easy way. They didn't need to gather 5,000 signatures and convince nearly 100,000 voters, like Decriminalize Denver did. Decriminalize Nature convinced just eight people: the Oakland city council, who voted unanimously to decriminalize these drugs Tuesday night.

With a city council initiative, Norris said, "You can take direct action that will actually have a big ripple effect. I'm sure you guys [in Denver] feel the same way."

Now that the Bay Area has re-established itself as probably the Psychedelic Capital of the World, the wider world has concerns.

Psychedelics do not exactly have the best reputation.

"WHAT CAN GO WRONG?" asked Sean Hannity on Facebook. His followers envisioned doom — glassy-eyed, burnt-out, spun-out wooks staggering like zombies through the Oakland streets. "They will start killing just to rob people for their fix," one wrote. Wrote another: "I wish California and Oregon would break off and sink into the ocean." Wrote another: "Now they're going to start eating each other."

But, in Norris's experience, those kinds of reactions mostly come from social media blowhards out for "likes." In real life, conservatives and cops aren't super opposed to natural drugs.

All sides of the political spectrum, Norris found, were surprisingly well-informed about the research showing that, while plant-based psychedelics have downsides, many can heal headaches, addiction and disconnection.

To both Republicans and Democrats he talked to, outlawing nature seems a little ... unnatural.

"Nature is a cross-party thing," Norris said.

Norris, for example, recalled the strange feeling of sitting in a meeting with Oakland cops, who knew a surprisingly large amount about peyote and ayahuasca. "These are the people who normally arrest us," Norris marveled. "And they were very, very open and interested."

Cops know that irresponsible drug use "is happening now anyway," Norris said. "People can get whatever they want off the dark web." And they do the drugs in secret, by themselves. But starting this week, tripped-out Oaklanders who are using drugs badly, or having a "bad trip," can seek help from cops, paramedics and therapists — without worrying about prison.

Decriminalize Nature is spreading. Norris has already heard from people in "50 different cities" who think they can talk their city councils into becoming friendly to plants.

"People are trying to make this happen in Texas and Oklahoma City," Norris said.

"That might be a little difficult," Norris allows. But, he said, "Everyone said this was impossible."

After this huge win, Norris now sees the world as full of possibility.

"Change is — I won't say easy, 'cause it wasn't easy, we worked our butts off," Norris said, "but change is definitely possible."